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Distressed doctors: a narrative and historical study of work-related mental discomfort among practising physicians

Abstract

This article explores the complexity of mental distress among physicians, as portrayed in two literary narratives: John Berger and Jean Mohr’s A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor (1967) and Pia Dellson’s Väggen: En utbränd psykiaters noteringar (2015, ‘The Wall: Notes by a Burnt-Out Psychiatrist’). Departing from a historical understanding of medical practice, the article seeks to discuss whether some of the noted similarities and differences in the two narratives could be related to changes appearing over time in the role model of the medical encounter. As the two narratives provide illustrative descriptions of the difficulties experienced by doctors suffering from mental discomfort, they also call for a greater awareness among medical practitioners of the sociological terms of doctoring. Practising a person-centred, rather than patient-centred, care might be part of such awareness and is discussed as a possible protective strategy for physicians at risk of work-related mental distress.

  • physician narratives
  • literature and medicine
  • mental health care
  • cultural history
  • sociology
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